May 19 2007
First of all, same as New Zealand, I met some wonderful people who took time out of their busy lives to host me and give me a glimpse into their worlds. In New Zealand I met some of the smaller trainers and endurance riders; in Australia I met some of the icons of international endurance and the Arabian horse. Many thanks to Meg Wade and Chris Gates of Castlebar, (and all their workers), the Tofts of Toft Endurance, (and all their workers), and Ron and Val Males of Ralvon Arabian Stud, and I hope to meet many more people on my next visit!
There are quite a few similarities in endurance riding in Australia and the US.
Most notably, though a majority of endurance riders don’t participate in FEI, most people don’t mind it, and many support it.
We’re both losing trails we used to have easy access to, to housing developments and people closing their land because of insurance.
There’s rumors in both countries (and others) about people cheating: drugging horses, taking shortcuts on course. Only those who might do it know if the rumors are true, and only they have to live with themselves. Did you really win if you did any of this?
Australia and New Zealand have logs books for every horse, which seem to be a good idea. In the book, every ride is recorded, every vet check and the results of the vet’s evaluation, and where the horse finished or when he vetted out (pulled) and why. The US doesn’t - we only have vet cards for each ride, which we present to the vets at the vet checks, and carry with us during the ride, and turn it over to the vets (ride manager) after the ride. If you want these after the ride, you can have them. However, we in the US have the great resource of online records, for horses and riders, with our AERC organization online, which is very handy and convenient, which is not available in Australia (or New Zealand), though I’ve heard that it might be available in the future. It takes a great deal of work, and our AERC people do a great job of keeping it up to date as soon as possible.
While Australian 40 km rides (25 milers) are strictly Training Rides, have a time limit of not finishing faster than 6 hours (and not slower than 8 hours), US training rides, or Limited Distances (LDs), have become quite competitive and many LD riders want placings, awards, and Best Conditioned judging just like the 50 mile and over rides.
As for the 160 km FEI rides, especially the FEI rides, where the ride is supposed to be 6 loops, it seems that strategy and speed are the focus of the ride, and the strappers and veterinarians carry more responsibility for the welfare of the horse. In 100 mile US rides where there are, say, 3 long loops, with 3 hour-long vet checks and maybe another 15-minute hold on one of the loops, the rider has more time where he or she must be responsible for the horse out on the trail and adjust his or her riding accordingly. In the US now, at many rides, 30 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles or multi-days, at least in the West and Pacific Southwest where I ride, the trend is becoming so that every head veterinarian of every ride will give a pre-ride speech deferring the responsibility of the horse’s wellbeing on the RIDER. The vet sees the horse for maybe 2 minutes at each vet check - and likely not the same vets see the same horses - and he or she is there to HELP the rider assess the condition of the horse during those two minutes. The rider has been on the horse the last few hours and should know how the horse is feeling, and the rider should know if the horse needs slowing down or stopping. The veterinarian can’t possibly be expected to know how the horse feels underneath the rider, nor predict what might happen another 20 miles down the trail, even if the horse does look good in those two minutes. If you don’t know your horse, you really shouldn’t be riding it, their opinion. Of course, anything can happen at any time out on the course, but it’s certainly not the vet who should blamed for anything that goes wrong. Fairly recently in the US one vet was sued by a rider who, after his horse passed a vet check, went back out on trail, over-rode his horse, and the horse died. Whose fault was it? If actions like this become common it will threaten rides, because what vet would possibly consent to vetting a ride if he’s held responsible for a rider killing his horse?
Australia has commentators broadcasting at vet checks throughout the rides (as does New Zealand). Of course that’s for the strappers, so they know when their riders are approaching, since time in the vet check gates into holds is crucial, especially for those out to compete, not just complete. The US has some radio check people, which do number checks out on course for some rides, but it’s just to guard against emergencies, and to turn the list into ride management later to make sure people have stayed on course.
In the US, we don’t put a lot of work into strapping, especially at the non-FEI rides. Personally I hadn’t even heard of ‘strapping’ and had to look up what the heck it meant. Sure, we put water on our horses if their heart rates need bringing down, but normally we don’t have a crew of people and a slew of buckets doing it. We might have a ‘crew,’ who will maybe be carrying a bucket of water and a sponge in one hand for the horse, and a beer or Dr Pepper J in the other hand for the rider.
Most people I visited in Australia heavily use electrolytes, and by ‘heavily,’ I mean feeding in feed before and during rides, and electrolyting by mouth syringe going out on every loop. Plenty of people in the US do that also, but some of the ‘old school’ endurance riders, whom I learned from, might add electrolytes to feed before and during rides (if then), but don’t syringe additional electrolytes during the rides. I know that with a couple of horses I rode a couple hundred miles on each, we tried it both ways, and there was no difference, although of course I was not doing hundreds in 12 hours, nor 50 milers in 4 hours. There is a corroborating study I just read about, in one of the Australian States’ endurance newsletters. The French endurance team had always, prior to the year - I think it was around 2002 - given their horses oral electrolytes going out on every loop in 160 km endurance rides. For the 2-year study, they completely stopped supplementing the horses during the rides, and it was found that every single horse had better completion rates and less metabolic problems once they stopped administering the electrolytes. From my observations, my conclusion is, both people - those who use a lot of electroytes, and those who don’t - swear by their methods.
Again, I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Australia either, to come to enough concrete conclusions about the endurance world there. I will just have to return one day and continue my studies!